Our History: Creating a Brighter Future for the Past 100 years


Prologue: In the beginning: summary of how MSMH began
01: The Lumbermen’s Hospital
02: Built in honor of the citizens of Stevens Point
03: The Sisters Arrive: Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother & Mother Mary Frances/Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother
04: The Doctors
05: Mercy Hospital


Prologue: In the Beginning

On January 28, 1913, O.H. Anderson, an employee of the Minneapolis, St. Paul and Sault Ste. Marie Railroad (later the Soo Line), was admitted to Saint Michael’s Hospital. Mr. Anderson was the hospital’s first patient, the culmination of more than three decades of plans, hopes, frustrations, and commitment that finally brought a modern hospital to the city and the citizens of Stevens Point.

There were only four nurses at the hospital on that day. They were members of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, a small Catholic order that had purchased the newly-constructed building from the City Hospital Association just a few weeks earlier. Five more Sisters were expected to arrive for the official opening of the hospital on February 3.

In the five days before the grand opening, the four Sisters were already hard-pressed to finish cleaning, stocking, and generally preparing the 36-bed facility. Still, they admitted several patients who needed their care, putting into practice one of the hospital’s guiding principles: “The Patient Comes First.”

By the end of 1913, 163 patients had been admitted. It was not a large number. In the public eye, hospitals were still viewed as a “last resort.” Most patients were still cared for at home. Not a single mother came to the hospital to deliver her baby in 1913. But those first patients who did enter Saint Michael’s reaffirmed the need for a modern hospital open to everyone.

When the cornerstone for the new hospital was laid on October 8, 1912, the future of the project was far from certain. There were still funds to be raised, and as the new building neared completion, the City Hospital Association had still not settled an important question: Who would run the facility? But the inscription on the cornerstone read, “Built in Honor of the Citizens of Stevens Point.” With their honor now at stake, those citizens of Stevens Point were determined that their hopes and dreams would be realized in the new hospital. For some, it had been a long wait.


01: The Lumbermen’s Hospital . . . 1882

In the closing decades of the 19th century, victims of illness or injury were nearly always cared for at home. One’s health and health care were considered to be entirely private matters. Babies were delivered in their mothers’ beds. Surgeries were performed on the kitchen table, close to the stove where water could be kept boiling. The sick convalesced at home and the elderly died at home, attended by family members and the occasional doctor’s visit.

There were asylums — institutions for orphans, for the destitute, or for those who were considered “insane.” (The word “asylum” comes from the Greek asulos, meaning “secure” or “impregnable” — “a place of refuge.”) But these were places to be avoided and often to be feared. For nearly everyone, home was considered the best and most appropriate place for care to be given.

If you were sick or injured far from home, you had few options. Hotels and a few small private hospitals could offer a place for treatment and convalescence — if you could afford them. If not, the local jail might offer shelter and a little bit of care. If you had a contagious disease, hotels, jails, and some private hospitals would turn you away.
In1882, when the first hospital opened in Stevens Point, there was no organized “health care system,” in part because there was little that doctors and hospitals could do to heal an injury or cure a disease. Modern medicine was in its infancy. The mechanisms of disease were still poorly understood. Surgery and anesthesia were primitive and dangerous; antibiotics were unknown. Charlatans and quacks abounded; worthless medicines, medical gadgets, and “miracle cures” were advertised and sold everywhere. The decades after 1900 would bring a revolution in medical knowledge and care, but in 1882, that was still in the future.

In October 1882, Dr. H.M. Waterhouse opened the first hospital in Stevens Point. Waterhouse owned and operated the “Lumbermen’s Hospital” in Bay City, Michigan. In Stevens Point, his hospital was run primarily for lumbermen, not for the general public. The lumber camps and sawmills around Stevens Point employed thousands of men, in dangerous jobs, far from their homes and families. Waterhouse sent agents to the camps and mills selling a kind of health insurance. Purchased for $3, a “hospital ticket” entitled the bearer to admission and treatment in Waterhouse’s hospital. Each ticket was good for one year. Patients without tickets could also be admitted, at a cost of $5 to $7 per week. (Working in the lumber camps in those days, a man earned about one dollar a day.)

Waterhouse leased the Masonic Block (where Boston Store now stands) for the hospital and assigned Dr. W.D. Ashun as resident physician. In its first year (the Stevens Point Journal reported in October 1883) the hospital treated 300 patients and sent medicines to 2,000.

Waterhouse built a two-story brick hospital at 428 Strongs Avenue but it was soon evident that he was too late getting into the game. The white pine was nearly gone from Portage County; the lumber camps and mills were moving north and taking Dr. Waterhouse’s patients with them. His boom had gone bust and he closed the hospital in 1885.

Doctors came and went in Stevens Point in the late 19th century. They rarely stayed for long and had little interest in lobbying for a public hospital in the city. Patients who needed major surgery or other hospital care were sent to Saint Mary’s Hospital in Oshkosh or Saint Agnes in Fond du Lac, riding there on a mattress on the floor of a railroad baggage car. That was still standard practice as the 19th century gave way to the 20th century.


02: “Built in honor of the citizens of Stevens Point”

The City Hospital Association

The Charity Hospital Corporation launched a new campaign in 1910 to raise funds for a public hospital. This time, they had the help of the Stevens Point Women’s Club. With the backing of the railroad, the Journal, and the Portage County Medical Society (established in 1903), this campaign got off to a good start. Mr. V.P. Atwell of the Boyington Company donated an acre of land on Fremont Street for a hospital site, G.W. Andres of Stevens Point gave $1,000 (about $25,000 in 2012 purchasing power), and most of the doctors in the city donated $1,000 each. In September 1910, the corporation changed its name to the City Hospital Association and appointed a committee to raise funds for the project.

Committee members, according to the Journal, “will call upon our people in the near future and it is hoped that they will meet with a liberal response.” Urged on by the “unbounded enthusiasm” of committee chairwoman Mrs. Charles E. Van Hecke, the members sought pledges from businesses and residents in the city and in the villages and townships around Portage County. In all, about $13,000 was raised for new hospital (about $320,000 in 2012 purchasing power). Some of it came from bank loans and $2,000 of it came from the Women’s Club alone.

The donation of a one-acre site was a windfall for the Association, but members feared that it wasn’t enough land to provide for future needs. The Women’s Club donated $200 to buy a second acre, making the site 330 feet long (along Freemont Street) by 264 feet deep.

A ground-breaking ceremony was held on August 31, 1911. A cornerstone was laid on October 8 by the Rev. E.M. Thompson of the Episcopal Church of the Intercession. Its inscription reads: “Built in honor of the citizens of Stevens Point.”

The surviving records do not tell us what it cost to build, furnish, and equip the new hospital. The $13,000 raised was probably not enough to finish the job; the doctors might have had to dig into their pockets again. And as late as November 1912, the Women’s Club was donating more funds to furnish a patient room, “in order to make complete the work of the club in securing the new hospital.” Several other rooms were later furnished in whole or in part by private groups or individual donors.


03: The Sisters Arrive

In mid-1912, as the building was nearing completion, the Association had not yet determined who would manage the facility. One possibility was a religious community called the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, based in Marshfield and operating hospitals there and in a few other communities around Wisconsin. In October, the Bishop of Green Bay was enlisted to contact the Sisters and invite them to consider operating the Stevens Point Hospital. Soon after, a team from the Sisters’ community came to Stevens Point to inspect the hospital and discuss terms. Apparently, they liked what they saw. In short order, they agreed to take over the hospital if the city would waive the right to reclaim it at any future date. On December 12, the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother took ownership of the Stevens Point Hospital and its $5,000 mortgage debt.

They renamed it for Saint Michael, the Archangel and defender of the church. Saint Michael was revered by early Christians as a healer to whom they prayed for the care of their sick.

The building was complete but it was far from ready for patients. The first four Sisters arrived at the hospital on December 27, 1912, and they were surprised (possibly dismayed) at how much work remained to be done before the facility could open for business. They quickly replaced the building’s hand-operated elevator with an electric lift, purchased sterilizing equipment, and furnished the kitchen and dining room. Cleanup and general preparations took more than a month and alterations continued well into 1913. By the time the hospital had been brought up to their standards, the Sisters had invested over $7,000 in additions and improvements (about $165,000 in 2012 dollars).

When the hospital officially opened on February 3, 1913, there were already a handful of patients in the wards, and nine Sisters in residence. By June 30, the staff had increased to 13 Sisters.

One amenity the new hospital did not offer was a chapel. For the Sisters who worked and lived there, that was a serious omission. A temporary chapel was set up while plans were made for a permanent site.

To make room for the new chapel, the Sisters gave up their own dining, sleeping and sewing rooms. Their former kitchen became the sacristy and they moved into rooms in the hospital’s attic and basement. They received Holy Communion and attended Masses in a temporary chapel until August 1913, when the first High Mass was celebrated in the new chapel.

The return on the Sisters’ investment was slow in the first years. By the end of 1913, only 163 patients had been admitted to the 36-bed hospital. Public opinion about hospitals in general was slow to change. Most people still believed their loved ones were cared for best at home and most babies were still delivered at home. Changing those attitudes would take time.


04: The Doctors

The local physicians who had each donated $1,000 to build the hospital were “charter members” of the hospital staff in 1913. Most of the doctors in Stevens Point were charter members. They included Drs. John D. Lindores, Carl Von Neupert, Jr., Frank A. Southwick, Daniel L. Alcorn, Frank A. Walters, William W. Gregory, J.W. Bird, Wayne F. Cowan, Ellietson H. Rogers, Daniel S. Rice, and Angus MacMillan, and others.

In fact, there was no organized medical staff in 1913. Doctors from all around the county brought their patients to the hospital, but there was no system governing who could or could not practice there and no standards for doctors who used the hospital. The first attempt to organize the medical staff came in 1919. At a meeting in May, the doctors in attendance elected officers and discussed the creation of a constitution and bylaws for the medical staff. It would be years before either was adopted.

Meanwhile, matters had gotten somewhat out of hand. At a meeting in November 1920, Sister Superior Mary Leonina said that out-of-town doctors were scheduling time in the operating room and then failing to appear, making it difficult to schedule time for local doctors. Local staff members who had donated $1,000 to the 1910 building fund were grumbling about standing in line behind out-of-town doctors who had made no such contributions. Some were arguing for establishing formal standards of medical ethics and practice for the hospital staff. Several important decisions came out of that meeting:
— From then on, the hospital’s medical staff would be considered a “closed staff.” And only members of that closed staff could practice at the hospital.
— Charter members, those who had given $1,000 to the original building fund, would form the initial staff. Doctors who were not charter members, whether locals or out-of-towners, could apply for “associate membership,” which would allow them to practice at the hospital.
— Associate membership would be granted only after a majority of those already on the staff were satisfied that the applicant could meet accepted standards of ethics and practice. After a probationary period, associate members could be granted full membership on the staff.

In time, all associate members were also required to be members of the Portage County Medical Society.

At a staff meeting in January 1921, the doctors voted to pay $12 apiece toward the purchase of a new records case for the hospital. It was the beginning on an elaborate, centralized system of patient records and case histories for all patients admitted to the hospital.

In September 1927, after years of careful study and discussion, the medical staff finally adopted a formal constitution and bylaws for the staff and diagnostic department. The foundations were in place for a modern — and expanding — Saint Michael’s Hospital.


05: Mercy Hospital

By 1900, Stevens Point was seeing the beginnings of a stable medical community, as doctors who once passed briefly through the city were now more inclined to stay. Public attitudes about hospitals and health care were also shifting somewhat. In 1902, physicians and local citizens began to discuss the idea of a public hospital in the community. In 1903, under the leadership of Dr. Carl Von Neupert, Sr., they formed the Charity Hospital Corporation, with the aim of raising funds to build a public hospital in the city of Stevens Point.

But the funds never materialized and the corporation turned its efforts to encouraging the establishment of a private hospital in the city. That effort bore fruit when Mercy Hospital opened in June 1906. Located at 702 Church Street, in the former residence of Harvey P. Maxwell, Mercy Hospital had 14 rooms and modern heating, plumbing, and lighting, according to the Journal. It was owned and operated by Mrs. P.H. Gryseels, with the help of three other nurses. The first patient was a Mrs. Danchyk of Jordan, Wisconsin, who was admitted for an appendectomy.

In 1908, Mercy Hospital had a new owner, Aeneas McMillan, a male nurse who had trained at the hospital. On June 5, 1909, the Journal reported that Dr. Von Neupert, Jr., brought to Mercy Hospital two men who were burned in a boiler explosion in the Dancy drainage district. It had taken two days to get the men out of the mud, ditches, and wilderness, into town.

After that, Mercy Hospital drops out of sight in the city’s historic records. Some folks recalled that it moved twice to different houses on Water Street before it closed, probably in early 1910. The public, it seemed, still preferred to be cared for at home.

That year, the Minneapolis, St. Paul and Sault Ste. Marie Railroad (later the Soo Line) established a division headquarters in Stevens Point. Railroad executives began pressuring city officials to establish a new hospital to serve the line’s growing roster of employees and their families.

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